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Getting Crafty: Restaurant Guide to Beers and Brews


Group of friends drinking beer outside
It's outdoor bar season!

So much goes into serving alcohol in your restaurant, from managing your beverage costs and staying on top of inventory to optimizing your delivery and hiring and training highly skilled bar staff. With over 532 billion bottles of 12 fluid ounce beer sold every year, alcohol sales present a robust business opportunity for restaurants.


An enormous fluctuation in the beer market occurred over the last few years, with sales skyrocketing for off-premise orders and nose-diving for in-house operations. But as business returned to "normal," beer sales have shown a promising future with more avenues for alcoholic beverage delivery. Whether you’re expanding your operations to include a wider selection of craft brews or just want to dive deeper into the basics, this guide to beers and brews will help you get crafty and increase profits.


Common Terms to Brew On

  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) measures the potency of a beer. The higher the ABV, the more intoxicating the beverage.

  • International Bitterness Units (IBU) is a scale that gauges the level of a beer's bitterness. More specifically, IBUs measure the parts per million of isohumulone from hops in a beer, which gives beer bitterness.

  • Cicerone is a hospitality professional with proven experience in selecting, acquiring, and serving today's wide range of beers.

  • Gravity is a reflection of the general viscosity or density of a beer as it refers to the number of dissolved solids like sugars.

  • Session beers are generally lower ABV content.

  • Imperial beers normally contain a heavier ABV content.


Bartender pouring lager into a mug
Lager

Types of Beer

Before looking closer at the various beer niches, it’s important to be able to speak the beer language. There are over 100 different styles of beers brewed all over the world and each brewery crafts its beer to have its own unique mouthfeel, color, ABV, and taste. Whether it is a pale ale or a dark stout, there’s a brew for every beer drinker.


There are basically 3 types of beer classification: craft, domestic, and imported, each with its own characteristics.


Domestic Beer

In the United States, domestic beer is essentially any large-scale brand of beer brewed by large American brewing companies. While the increasing popularity of craft beer has certainly expanded what people think of when they hear the word “beer,” domestic beer is still the most popular brew on the market.


Like any other big American company, the brewery giants in the US are heavily focused on scale and profit. These beers, typically mass-produced with a wide distribution, are made to appeal to the masses.


Canned and bottled domestic beers are the easiest beer to find in the United States, available at just about any food market, gas station, or liquor store. Domestic beer is also readily available as a draft in most bars and restaurants in the US. and is sold by the keg for at-home consumption.


Popular domestic beer brands

  • Budweiser

  • Bud

  • Michelob

  • Miller

  • Busch

  • Coors

  • Pabst Blue Ribbon

  • Natural Light

  • Keystone Light

  • Milwaukee’s Best Ice


Imported Beer

Imported beer is any beer that is brewed outside of the US. Several foreign beer companies import their beer to the United States from Mexico, including Corona Extra, Modelo Especial, Sol, Dos Equis, and Pacifico. Because Mexican beer brands are so popular in the United States, they are imported in huge numbers and are available just about anywhere that domestic beer is sold.


Other popular imported beer brands include Heineken, brewed in the Netherlands, Guinness, brewed in Dublin, Ireland, and Stella Artois, brewed in Belgium, to name just a few.


Craft Beer

Craft beer is any beer that is brewed by small, independent, and traditional brewers. The term “craft” indicates that these beers are crafted, rather than mass-manufactured, like those of large-scale microbreweries.


Whereas most imported and domestic mass-produced breweries place their focus on profits and mass distribution, craft breweries place a stronger emphasis on quality ingredients and traditional brewing techniques.


In the United States, a brewery must produce less than 6,000,000 barrels of beer per year to be considered a craft beer. A barrel of beer in the United States is 31 US gallons. Because any brewery that produces less than 186,000,000 gallons of beer per year, can be considered “craft,” some fairly large breweries operate as craft breweries.


Craft Beer at Restaurants
Selection of imported, domestic, and craft beer

Styles of Beer


LAGER

The most popular style of beer in the nation, lager accounts for a majority of beer production in the U.S. Lagers are crisp and light in body, pairing well with heartier bar fare.


Types of Lagers


Pilsner is a pale lager that is light to golden in color, with a crisp front end and a subtly sweet aftertaste. Pairs well with roasted pork or chicken.


Kölsch is a lighter lager with notes of wheatgrass and lemon. Pairs well with a light cheese or salad-based lunch.


Bock is a less common lager style with notably dark hues, a malty richness, and a higher ABV. Pairs well with heartier dishes like a Shepherd's Pie.


Helles, like a pilsner or kölsch, is light-colored, crisp, and mildly sweet at the back of your palate. A Helles-style brew is likely to score a low ABV and IBU, making them a perfect session beer. Pairs well with greasier, fried foods.


Dunkel is a dark German-style lager with a slightly higher ABV, but lower IBU, which is balanced out with a roasted malt finish. Pairs well with sausages and other grilled meats.



close-up of stout
Stout


STOUTS & PORTERS

Stouts and porters are both dark in body and heavy in malt. Both styles are also particularly pliable, allowing plenty of room for flavoring agents to color the overall brew. Just like with any other style of beer, there are seemingly infinite varieties of stouts and porters.


Stouts differ from porters because they use unmalted, roasted barley instead of malted, unroasted barley. Most stouts have higher alcohol contents and IBU scores than porters. While both stouts and porters are dry-hopped, stouts contain fewer hops than porters. Stout beer evolved from porter beer, so it resembles the typical porter color and taste.


The head of a stout should be thick and is usually tan to brown. Its body should be very dark brown or black. Stouts are typically opaque but if any light does find its way through, the beer should be clear. The nose should be grainy and can carry hints of coffee, chocolate, licorice, and molasses with no apparent hops.


Porters tend to be sweeter and earthy than stouts, which are stronger and a bit stiffer. Baltic porters often display a balance of smoke, roasted malt, and hoppy bitterness (35 to 45 IBUs) in the taste. The beers are deep ruby to black and can be cloudy.


Types of Stouts and Porters

Dry Irish Stout: Balanced and dry, relying on unmalted dark-roasted barley for its rich dark color, aroma, and taste, Dry Irish stout is a tad more bitter, with a characteristically super-dark appearance, smooth finish, and a lower ABV than other stouts (under 5%.) Guinness, the quintessential Dry Irish Stout, is carbonated with nitrogen, giving it a creamy and smooth mouthfeel.

Milk Stouts: Thanks to the addition of lactose or sugar, Milk Stouts are a smooth, creamy beer with a soft sweetness with a finish like chocolate milk. Full-bodied, with lower ABVs, Milk Stouts are often brewed with flavors like coffee, cacao nibs, coconut, or vanilla.

Oatmeal Stout: Adding oats to a stout gives this beer a smooth texture and creamy mouthfeel without too much sweetness.

Oyster Stout: Actual oysters that are actually used when brewing an Oyster Stout, give this beer a salty sea spray flavor with chocolate undertones.


Pastry Stout: A cake or cookie-inspired beer, the rich, sweet base makes this stout an ideal backdrop for baking ingredients like cinnamon, coconut, chiles, and cacao nibs. Often higher in ABV, which helps them stand up to high residual sugar contents, pastry stouts counterbalance acidic foods like barbecue or Mexican fare.


Imperial Stout/Russian Imperial Stout: Imperial Stouts have relatively high ABV (often above 8%) and feature intense sweetness and distinctly dark chocolate, roast, or coffee flavors.


Brown Porters/English Porters: Lighter, particularly hoppy, softer, and sweeter than most stouts, English porters are quite dark, occasionally black or with a red tint. More robust English Porters have higher ABV (4.8-6.5%) with darker and more intense flavors.


BARREL-AGED

Fermented in barrels, the interaction between the brew and the barrel often leads to higher ABV and lower IBU, making this style of beer a great complement to a dessert.


Group of women drinking beer
IPA

INDIA PALE ALE: IPA

Pale ales rank among the most popular styles of beer because they are widely available, often affordable, and pair well with pub fare. A subset of pale ales, IPA, a hop-forward style of beer, originally brewed for export to British colonies abroad, has taken off in popularity in the United States. There are many varieties of IPAs, from black IPAs to triple IPAs.

Popular IPA Styles


These are classification categories for IPAs. A “style” means that an ingredient and/or technique in the brewing process or technique lends a certain flavor, mouthfeel, or appearance to the beer that consistently remains true for the style.


New England IPA: The New England IPA is the IPA of the moment. Using blends of hops that lend intense, fruity flavor, this IPA is unfiltered and hazy with extremely low bitterness. New England-style IPAs are often dry-hopped and tend to be fermented to have lower carbonation. Looking like orange juice, smelling like a fruit salad (sprinkled with a bit of weed), and tasting like a fresh fruit cobbler, the New England IPA is perfect for customers who claim not to like IPAs. (They’re like the California Rolls of IPAs.)


New England IPA Breweries: Hill Farmstead Brewery, Civil Society Brewing Company, and Trillium Brewing Co.



East Coast IPA: Not actually an “official” style of beer, the East Coast style IPA is a stepping stone between the British and West Coast IPA, with an emphasis on piney hop flavor and a solid malt backbone. Not as bright as a West Coast IPA, but more complex in flavor than a British IPA, East Coast IPAs have a style unto themselves.


East Coast IPA Breweries: Carton Brewing Company, Dogfish Head Brewing Company, and Victory Brewing Company

Oat IPA: Brewed with either flaked oats or oat milk, Oat IPAs have a lazy, lethargic, cozy mouthfeel. Described as “soft,” this is the IPA for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Oat IPA Breweries: The Veil Brewing Company, Cerebral Brewing, and Monkish Brewing Co.


Hazy IPAs: Also known as a New England IPA, Hazy IPAs use hops that produce a dense body, tropical flavor, and juicy finish. Hazy IPAs pair well with dishes that are rich and crisp.


Milkshake IPA: Milkshake IPAs, also known as cream or Lactose IPAs, do not contain milk, and they are not shaken. Using lactose or milk sugar in the fermentation process, Milkshake IPAs are low in carbonation, creamy, and frothy, with slight hints of bitterness. Like a lighter milk stout, Milkshake IPAs pair well with steak, barbecued meats, or smoked foods.


Milkshake IPA Breweries: Tired Hands Brewing Company, Omnipollo, and Other Half Brewing Company


West Coast IPA: The West Coast IPA explores the rowdy, fruity flavors in hops while shedding some of the bitterness. West Coast IPAs pair well with spicy foods like Mexican and Tex-Mex.


West Coast IPA Breweries: Fieldwork Brewing Company, Half Acre Beer, Pipeworks Brewing Co.


British IPA: Malty, bitter, and one-noted, British IPAs are appreciated by those with a certain beer preference, but they are generally not the most popular beer.


British IPA Brewing Companies: Great Lakes Brewing Company, Yards Brewing Company, and Samuel Smith’s Brewery


Belgian IPA: Belgian yeast provides sweet, bready, warm notes to Belgian IPA.


Belgian Style IPA Breweries: Central State Brewing Company, Brouwerij De Ranke, and New Belgium Brewing



IPA Vocabulary


Session: Modern session IPAs usually fall below 5% ABV (although historically, the style is 4% and below). With lower alcohol comes a thinner body, which allows for more drinks in a session, hence the name.


Double/Imperial: Known as an IPA on steroids, double and imperial IPAs are essentially IPAs with a higher hop concentration. To balance all that hop flavor, the brewer uses more malt, which results in a higher ABV (usually over 7%).


Dry-Hopped: Dry-hopping is the process of steeping hops in fermenting beer instead of adding them while the liquid is boiling. The process creates a powerful aroma, amplifying the hops’ fruity, piney, and candy-sweet notes.


Single-Hopped: A single-hopped IPA is brewed exclusively with one hop variety.


Fresh-Hopped: Fresh-hopped IPAs, also called wet-hopped or harvest ales, only come around once a year, at the peak of hop harvesting season in late August and September. To qualify as a fresh-hopped IPA, the hops have to leave the vine, travel to the brewery, and end up in the boil in under 24 hours. The closer to the brew date you drink it, the more intense the brilliant, fresh flavor of the hops will be.



SOURS

Sour beers are intentionally tart, with a fermented style. For brewers, crafting a sour beer is treacherous, as it involves wild yeasts to ferment, which if not carefully administered can infect their entire brewing system, thus souring all of their other beers as well. Due to that risk, sour beers are comparably rare but are rising in popularity.





By Eileen Strauss

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